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Keytags Go Upscale

By Matt Histand

Keytags aren’t the newest or most innovative promotional products. But they’ve recently acquired a whole new sense of style and quality that continue to make them one of the most in-demand items around

Keytags are a vital part of the promotional products market, and their longevity proves it. For well over 50 years they’ve remained a bestseller and one of the “Big Three” of logoed goods – the others being wearables and writing instruments – and there’s no sign that their popularity will wane any time soon.

“They’ve been able to replace a lot of things with computers, but they have yet to replace your keys,” says promotional consultant Rick Nielsen. "People [still] aren’t comfortable with digital coding. I think they feel very secure about having keys and because of that, it seems that keys are something that will probably survive the paperless revolution."

Keytags’ staying power can be attributed to many things. The automotive industry and increased home, office and personal security are two main factors, but important elements in the promotional products arena are price, functionality and uniqueness. Lately, keytags have blossomed into a fashion accessory. Check out stores like Claire’s or Afterthoughts at your local mall, or look at the backpacks of junior high school students.

Then there’s the upscale market: Tiffany’s, Bloomingdale’s and other haute retailers are showing all kinds of fancy fobs, tags and chains aimed at the Mercedes and BMW demographic – a far cry from the product’s Rodney Dangerfield days. The good news is that nowadays everyone seems to need more than one keytag – or “the one” is considered a status symbol and personal statement. Just think about the many different places the average person uses a key each day: home, car, post-office box, bike lock, office, file cabinets, safety deposit box. Some cars require separate ignition and trunk keys. Keeping them all handy, in one place, is the keytag’s key function.

And most don’t have that high a price tag. Still, no matter who your intended audience or what organization you represent, there’s a tag to meet your particular promotional needs. They can be found at just about every price point imaginable, from a few cents to several dollars, in basic plastic or high-end silver and gold.

Key Questions
The most important thing to consider when selecting a keytag is the audience that will eventually receive it. Selecting a tag at random doesn’t lend itself to a successful promotion. You need to get a sense of your audience’s style and interests. The ability to make that connection is what will eventually decide if they continue to use your keytag or whether it ends in a drawer or the trash. Another “key” consideration is your own type of business or organization. Some styles are naturally suited to some firms, such as floating keytags for a boat dealer. Other might require a little more thought. Ask yourself: Budget is another important part of the equation, but it shouldn’t limit a promotion’s effectiveness and success. Some might consider cost the overriding factor, but setting an absolute budget may limit your keytag selection and rule out good options. Your counselor may be able to work some magic and achieve better results with a slightly pricier item that more than justifies your investment. Another potential problem is underestimating the quality of the tag in relation to the campaign. Promotional consultant Jodi Fishman notes: “Quality is probably more important than price, because it reflects on the company giving it.” Quality often refers to a tag’s imprint, she notes. A long-lasting imprint is just as important as other features. If it’s not properly applied, it will rub off.

Limitless Possibilities
The long and short of keytags is that they can be found in any size, material, price point or feature imaginable. In the early days, they might have had only plastic or leather fobs with a chain or split ring, but today they’re anything and everything. Traditional keytags embrace both high-end materials and new technology. Metal keytags can now be produced inexpensively, but still have high perceived value aside from the weight alone. Cast zinc can be coated with a black or white matte finish and brass can be plated made to look like brushed chrome or sterling silver. Even leather now comes in different colors and can be embossed and/or imprinted to accentuate its look. The most popular tags, however, remain plastic and soft vinyl – the “funky chic” category. They’re inexpensive and can be custom cut into almost any design you want. “They’re very, very customizable shape-wise because you can die-cut very easily,” says Jim McCarty, promotional consultant. “They’re available in shapes that would match the corporate advertising theme or message that the advertiser would portray.” Think animal silhouettes for veterinarians, houses for realtors, cars for garages/dealerships, palm trees for travel agents or resorts, etc.

Other types of keytags are interactive. These tend to cost a little more, but they convey a higher perceived value to the recipient. They can feature such details as pull-apart fasteners, mini-flashlights, sound chips, kaleidoscopes, puzzles and games. They work because they stand out and actively engage a person in the promotion. Some tags even stretch the boundaries of what’s considered a keytag. For example, imagine carrying a mini Etch-A-Sketch or Rubik’s Cube in your purse or pocket. Interactives are a good choice if you want to add a little fun to your promotion.

Hot Trends
Keytags have appeared in just about every form, shape and size imaginable, but they continue to sell and inspire new designs. Manufacture’s offer many of the traditional styles, but increasingly come up with new designs of their own. The results are more unique-looking tags that can set a business or organization apart from its competition. “The imprinting process has provided a lot of possibilities with four-color process and die-cuts,” says Tom Ngo, promotional consultant. “There are many options out there. You can do a lot with keytags. It’s no longer that typical piece of plastic with a single color imprint of Joe’s Bar-B-Q House. Custom-design keytags with a four-color process are amazingly sophisticated and fashionable.” In addition, “high-tech” features such as 3-D holograms and laser engraving – once only available on expensive tags – are dropping in price and becoming far more popular.

So whatever style or design you choose, remember to take the time to consider your target audience and all the available options. The keytags of today cover so much ground that you’re sure to find just the right one for your next promotion – even if it means creating a design all your own.

COPYRIGHT © 2002 The Advertising Specialty Institute. All rights reserved.
Matt Histand is assistant editor of IMPRINT.

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